For those of you clamoring for the autographs of both a serial killer and a Baseball Hall of Famer, here’s a way to, well, kill two birds with one stone. You can buy this “original acrylic painting of an Oriole by John Wayne Gacy, which prominently features the autograph of Cal Ripken Jr.” for $9,999.95.
The painting is being sold by Brian Platt, a businessman out of New Oxford, Pennsylvania, who admits to being a collector of weird things. Among the oddest of Platt’s hoardings are a slew of Gacy paintings. The oriole now on the market is one of eight canvases in Platt’s collection that Gacy painted while on death row at Menard Correctional Center in Illinois before his execution in 1994.
Gacy killed during a bizarre era in America in which several serial killers were treated as celebrities despite becoming famous merely by murdering a whole lot of people. Gacy got lots of newspaper ink in the late 1970s and early 1980s alongside fellow homicidal maniacs David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, and Wayne Williams. Their renown, and their profiting off it, led to the passage of so-called “Son of Sam” laws in several states, which were intended to keep killers from making money from their criminally induced fame. Gacy was likely the most prolific of this era’s sordid killer crop—his 33 murder indictments were the most ever recorded in U.S. judicial history—as well as the creepiest. He was known around town for playing Pogo the Clown, a character he performed as at charity events and kids parties. All of Gacy’s victims were young males, almost all of whom he sexually assaulted. Last year the Center for Missing and Exploited Children launched an effort to finally identify the remains of several Gacy murder victims who authorities have never been able to put a name to.
The killer clown was condemned after 29 bodies were found buried beneath or beside his home in Norwood Park Township, a Chicago suburb, in a macabre excavation project that began in December 1978, and another four of his victims were recovered from the nearby Des Plaines River, where Gacy disposed them after running out of room for more corpses on his property. Throughout his years-long killing spree, Gacy remained active in community organizations and the local Democratic Party; as cops were digging up bodies on his lot, they also found a photograph of Gacy with Rosalynn Carter, taken mere months before the carnage was uncovered and autographed by the reigning First Lady. (“To John Gacy. Best Wishes. Rosalynn Carter.”)
Platt won Gacy’s painting at an estate auction in Florida “four or five” years ago. After studying Gacy’s price list and painting history, Platt believes the original cost of the oriole painting was “about $150,” and that the production date was “from 1980 to 1983.” He didn’t realize when he bought it that the oriole was also apparently signed by an Oriole. “I didn’t even notice the Cal Ripken signature on it,” Platt says. “My attorney saw it and said, ‘Hey, you know who that is?’”
He knew. If Platt’s dating is right, the oriole canvas that he’s now asking about 10 grand for came out just as Ripken was starting his Hall of Fame career. Platt doesn’t think baseball’s Iron Man had any idea he was putting his name on something produced by one of history’s most notorious murderers. But he says from what he gleaned from the other items at that estate auction—including couches covered entirely in alligator skin—he surmises the painting’s original owner, who was identified at the sale merely as “Sonny Slim,” was just the sort of “wise guy” who would order an oriole from Gacy fully intending to get an unsuspecting Baltimore player to sign. As for opportunity: “[The original owner] lived in Hollywood, [Florida], near where the Orioles had their spring training,” Platt says.
So I asked Ripken spokesman John Maroon to show Cal a photo of the painting and ask if he remembered signing it. “Cal said ‘I don’t think it’s my signature,’” Maroon told me by phone, “and he doesn’t remember signing” or of ever seeing the painting.
However, Ripken “can’t say with 100 percent certainty it’s not his signature,” said Maroon, who noted that Cal was and remains a serial signer. “In the rope line people shove things in his face all the time. The joke in Baltimore is if you don’t have an autograph from Cal Ripken, you haven’t tried.”
Platt says that there was surprisingly little demand at the auction for Gacy’s paintings, and he was able to take home the oriole painting for “about $500,” including buyer’s premium. For several years while incarcerated, Gacy took orders on what to paint from mail-order customers. Platt still has a price list that Gacy used to send out to prospective patrons, showing that he’d charge from $100 to $300, depending on the subject matter desired. “Clowns cost the most,” Platt says, adding that it “took nine years” for him to find a clown painting for his collection. Here it is:
The value on the killer’s paintings has gone up considerably through the years, Platt says. The spike may be attributable not only to Americans’ undying fascination with serial killers in general and specifically Gacy, but also because the supply from this particular artist has decreased since his execution. There have been at least two instances where Gacy’s works were collected for the specific purpose of being destroyed. The most publicized came in 1994, when Illinois businessman Joseph Roth went on a buying spree and then burned up to 40 Gacy paintings; according to the Chicago Tribune, the subjects of the immolated works included “Elvis, several clowns ... and skulls pierced by bloody daggers.”
According to the Tribune’s account of the Chicago fire: “Roth described the action as a quasi-public service, designed to teach children to be alert to strangers and to underscore the need for parents to keep better tabs on their young.”
Gacy was executed for his crimes 25 years ago this month, and there’s been a resurgence of his celebrity of late. He had a prominent spot in the CW series Supernatural in February, and Evil Lives Here on Investigation Discovery devoted an episode to him in March. The buzz out of Hollywood is that the upcoming Joker movie, borrows a lot from Gacy: Forbes said the title character, played by Joaquin Phoenix “was deliberately evocative” of the real-life killer clown. And the trailer for the film has a scene in a comedy club named “Pogo’s.”
Legit or not, it turns out Ripken wouldn’t be the only baseball all-timer to have his John Hancock on a John Gacy. A collector named Stephen Koschal is currently selling a 16”x 20” painting of baseball’s Hall of Fame logo, from 1990, that he says he’s gotten signed by 46 Cooperstown enshrinees, including Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio. But not Ripken, oddly enough. (Oh, and noted baseball fan Richard Nixon also signed.) Koschal is asking $27,500 for that definitely one-of-a-kind piece.
And if a Gacy painting isn’t your thing but you’re still in the mood for celebrity tchotchkes drenched in gruesomeness, Brian Platt might have other items of interest. He says he also “bought a ton of” Sharon Tate memorabilia, and is now selling a champagne goblet from Tate’s wedding to Roman Polanski before she was murdered in her home by members of the Manson Family. His sales pitch: “One can imagine how happy both Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski were on their wedding day, with neither knowing how their lives would be forever changed on August 9, 1969, a little less than 18 months after this joyous occasion.”